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When people think about innovation in customer service, they usually think in terms of technological or process enhancements that make service delivery faster or more efficient. In recent years, restaurants have introduced hand-held devices that buzz patrons when their table is ready, and supermarkets offer customers self-service checkout lines. While such innovations may simplify matters for customers, service organizations rarely stop to consider the overall psychology that shapes service encounters. Indeed, despite the plethora of articles and books about managing the customer experience, many key psychological variables that influence customer perceptions — the subtle enhancements that help define a positive experience — have yet to be defined or articulated fully. (See “About the Research.”)
Organizations often measure the outcomes of service encounters in concrete terms such as on-time flight arrivals or the time to resolve a customer’s call. However, the subjective outcomes — the emotions and the feelings — are more difficult to describe: Did the passenger enjoy the flight? Did the customer who called the service center with a problem hang up feeling better about the provider? Much as having a deeper understanding of systems dynamics and process analysis has pushed companies to re-engineer their operations to achieve explicit outcomes, findings from behavioral decision- making research, cognitive psychology and social psychology can point service providers to ideas for redesigning the psychological or implicit aspects of service encounters.
The Leading Question
How can service organizations make their encounters with customers more positive?
- Service providers need to recognize how emotions, trust and feelings about control shape how customers perceive their service experience.
- The “ETCs” need to be managed as design variables.
- The “soft side” of customer service requires the same management intensity as, say, supply chain redesign.
In an earlier article we drew upon the seminal work by decision theorists such as Kahneman, Ariely and Loewenstein to propose several service design principles.1 We noted, for example, that good service design needs to pay attention to the sequence of events that comprise the service.2 All things being equal, it is also good practice to conclude an encounter on a high note — to “finish strong.” Further, it helps to get the unpleasant parts out of the way early so people have events to look forward to.
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1. B.L. Fredrickson and D. Kahneman, “Duration Neglect in Retrospective Evaluation of Affective Episodes,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 60 (July 1993): 45-55; G.F. Lowenstein and D. Prelec, “Preferences for Sequence of Outcomes,” Psychological Review 100 (1993): 91-108; and D. Ariely and Z. Carmon, “Gestalt Characteristics of Experiences: The Defining Features of Summarized Events,” Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 13 (2000): 191-200.
2. R.B. Chase and S. Dasu, “Want to Perfect Your Company’s Service? Use Behavioral Science,” Harvard Business Review 79 (June 2001): 78-84.
3. J.E. Ledoux, “Systems and Synapses of Emotional Memory,” chap. 8 in “Memory: Organization and Locus of Change” ed. L.R. Squire, N.M. Weinberger, G. Lynch and J.L. McGaugh (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
4. R.S. Lazarus and S. Folkman, “Stress, Appraisal, and Coping” (New York: Springer Publishing, 1984).
5. I.J. Roseman, M.S. Spindel and P.E. Jose, “Appraisals of Emotion-Eliciting Events: Testing a Theory of Discrete Emotions,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59, no. 5 (November 1990): 899-115.
6. C.W.L. Hart, J.L. Heskett and W.E. Sasser, “The Profitable Art of Service Recovery,” Harvard Business Review 68 (July 1990): 148-156.
7. V.S. Folkes, “Recent Attribution Research in Consumer Behavior: A Review and New Directions,” Journal of Consumer Research 14, no. 4 (March 1988): 548-565.
8. M.J. Bitner, “Evaluating Service Encounters: The Effects of Physical Surroundings and Employee Responses,” Journal of Marketing 54, no. 2 (April 1990): 69-82.
9. E.N. Marcus, “When Young Doctors Strut Too Much of Their Stuff,” New York Times, Nov. 21, 2006.
10. D.L. Rotter and J.A. Hall, “Doctors Talking with Patients/ Patients Talking with Doctors: Improving Communications in Medical Visits” (Westport, Connecticut: Auburn House, 1992).
11. G.R. Bitran and J. Hoech, “Humanization of Service: Respect at the Moment of Truth,” Sloan Management Review 31, no. 2 (winter 1990): 89-96.